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Shock reaction as Debenhams moves to close Chatham store

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By Rachel Dixon and Katie Nelson

News of the impending closure of Chatham's Debenhams has been met with shock and disappointment.

Shoppers waiting outside this morning were greeted with a sign on the door saying the store would open late after a staff meeting.

Speaking after learning of the news, ward councillor Vince Maple felt it would have a massive effect.

This sign was put up outside the Chatham Debenhams store as staff were told it would be closing
This sign was put up outside the Chatham Debenhams store as staff were told it would be closing

He said: "It's a devastating blow for Chatham, it's incredibly sad.

"There are people who come to Chatham just to use the Debenhams.

"The footfall onto the high street will be impacted and that is something I am very concerned about, and how that will impact the other shops on the High Street."

Cllr Maple, who leads Medway Labour, added: "I'm going to make some urgent calls and ask Debenhams if there is any way they can reconsider the closure, I understand that is very unlikely.

"Also I will be looking out for Debenhams takeover bids, which we could encourage to move into the space.

"But at the moment my thoughts are with all the staff who are going to be made redundant.

"It's a huge store. I imagine the number of people losing their jobs will be three figures.

Cllr Vince Maple
Cllr Vince Maple

"We need to try and support them during this time."

The store opened as Debenhams in 2005 when it took over the building formerly used as department store Allders.

There are no plans to close the Debenhams in Gravesend.

The redevelopment of Chatham as Medway's 'city centre' has been a long-held aim of the council, especially as it looks at a potential bid to be the UK's City of Culture 2025.

Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett said: "There's been worry about the Chatham store closing for a while so this doesn't come as a surprise.

Alan Jarrett (8050834)
Alan Jarrett (8050834)

"It's not closing until next year so we've still got time to look for other retail options

"The council has a significant investment in the High Street so we're going to make sure it's going to be a success and Chatham will still be the City Centre of Medway.

"It's just a blip, Medway has got a history of bouncing back from bad things.

"This might be an issue for a little bit it'll bounce back soon."

Chatham MP Tracey Crouch said: "I think it's devastating news for the High Street and for those involved.

Tracey Crouch (9200823)
Tracey Crouch (9200823)

"I've not seen the email myself but I believe there will be a support process for the members of staff.

"But if any of my constituents need extra help all they need to do is get in touch.

"I love Debenhams, I'm a woman in my mid 40s, it's a haven of excitement for me, I'm not sure which one I will go to now.

"I personally know many people who travel pretty far just to come to Debenhams in Chatham so I think it's going to be a big loss for the high street."

Jay Kent, manager of the nearby Pentagon shopping centre, has also reacted.

He said: "We are extremely sad to see Debenhams go. It's very, very sad news.

"I'm not sure it's going to have any direct negative impact on the shopping centre, but it may have some impact on the High Street.

"We'd potentially like to see another department store in its place, or something that will complement the town - there's lots of opportunities, and obviously, we'd love to see a big name in there.

Pentagon centre manager Jay Kent
Pentagon centre manager Jay Kent

"I think the people of Chatham, people who have been here for a long time like myself, will always be sad to see a major retailer leave the High Street."

Callers to the newsroom have also expressed their disappointment.

Mark Ashman, of Copper House Road, Strood, has lived in Medway all his life.

The 52-year-old said: "I just looked on the news and saw the Chatham Debenhams is closing down, I am distraught, this is a disaster.

"This will be terrible for the High Street, I used to go all the time and now I go less and less, I won't be going now.

"Debenhams was the only thing attracting people to the High Street, now it's gone.

"It is such a big space, no retailer is going to be able to take over that lease now.

Debenhams on Chatham High Street will be closing
Debenhams on Chatham High Street will be closing

"The council has invested £45 million in the Pentagon, why didn't they invest in the independent shops?

"I think loads more of the stores will be closing now, you already don't want to shop there because of all the homeless people.

"We've already got enough boarded up shops on the High Street, and now the massive Debenhams will be too, it's an absolute disgrace."

Rochester resident Danny said: "To see a flagship store such as Debenhams go to the wall, what does that say about Chatham and the council's bid as a city of culture?"

High Street shoppers were waiting outside the store on Friday morning when the opening was put back to 10.30am to allow for a staff meeting.

They felt the closure would spell big trouble for the town centre.

Jane Basell said: “There’s no other decent shops around here. It’s very very sad. Chatham needs it, doesn’t it? There are some other good shops in Chatham. You can get a mixture of things here.”

“It’s probably the last decent store that there’s is around in this area. It just seems to me that Chatham town centre has gone down and down, to the point where, if this closes, they’ll be no need for us to come down here shopping" added Rob Basell.

Retailers have also had their say on the news.

Rimzi hair and beauty store in Chatham High Street (9202181)
Rimzi hair and beauty store in Chatham High Street (9202181)

Jana, of nearby Rimzi Hair and Beauty: “We are not happy because Chatham is already poor with the shops, and on top of this we are losing Debenhams. It is getting very poor."

Luke and Katie from TJ’s E-Cigarettes (9201934)
Luke and Katie from TJ’s E-Cigarettes (9201934)

Luke, of TJ’s E-Cigarettes, said: “Obviously it’s never good to see a big shop like that close down, especially in a High Street that’s declining so much.

"That was quite a big customer port, pulling people to the High Street.”

Chockers shoe shop in Chatham High Street (9202178)
Chockers shoe shop in Chatham High Street (9202178)

Ross, of Chocker’s shoe shop, said: “It will really effect the town because there’s not really any big shops that draw people into the town, is there? That’s one of them."

Cleopatras Beauty Stop in Chatham High Street (9202173)
Cleopatras Beauty Stop in Chatham High Street (9202173)

Farra, of Cleopatra’s Beauti Spot, said: “If it’s closed, this side of the High Street will be non-existent anymore because most people, when you speak to them they say ‘I reach Debenhams and I turn back’, so I think Debenhams closing will have a major impact on this side of the High Street.”

Anita Kelly, who works in nearby Primark said: “It’s going to be a major part of the High Street gone, the High Street won’t be the same without it.

"No one is big enough to take the store on, except for maybe Primark but they are already done the road.”

Anita Kelly works at nearby Primark (9204528)
Anita Kelly works at nearby Primark (9204528)

Jill Joyce, who had just left the store and moved to the area recently: “I think it’s the only decent shop we’ve got and I shall be very sad to lose it.”

Jill Joyce was disappointed at the store's closure (9204525)
Jill Joyce was disappointed at the store's closure (9204525)

John Paul thought that the fact that the entrance to Debenhams was covered over could attract homeless people: “It attracts a lot of people from out of town.

"If it was to close, I can see a lot of people coming over here for shelter.

"There’s a lot of homeless around at the moment and I think they will all be sitting under there to tell you the truth.”

John Paul thought that the store's closure could benefit the local homless population (9204523)
John Paul thought that the store's closure could benefit the local homless population (9204523)

Dawn Hudd, assistant director of physical and cultural regeneration at Medway Council, said: “This is clearly disappointing news for Chatham however we have a number of other well-known shops, bespoke stores and a supermarket chain in the town centre.

“We have invested heavily in Chatham town centre and we are committed to helping the area continue to thrive.

"The £4million Chatham Placemaking project has helped transform the town centre and the regeneration works contribute towards turning Chatham into Medway’s leading waterfront university city centre by 2035.

"It is a very exciting time for Chatham as we have just finalised our acquisition of the Pentagon Shopping Centre and we recently submitted an expression of interest to the government’s Future High Streets Fund which aims to help further transform town centres.

"The bid could unlock £14million which would be invested into Chatham town centre to further economic growth, increase housing, create more jobs and provide a vibrant town centre experience.

“Last month the planning committee unanimously approved plans for a housing development at Chatham Waterfront. The development will provide 175 new developments as well as commercial space on the ground floor for businesses such as cafes and restaurants.”

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